Every successful organisation will strive to employ a happy workforce. After all, happy staff are one of the keys to success. But minor problems or disagreements between staff or staff and management, are common. Not dealt with quickly or effectively, these can develop into grievances or employment disputes. In these situations, mediation could offer a solution.
Conflict between individuals in the workplace can come in many forms and crucially, if unresolved, it can cost an organisation dearly. Employers should give fair care and attention to any kind of workplace conflict. Some of the most common issues that can cause conflict between individuals and groups at work include:
- poor communication
- unfair treatment
- ambiguous job roles
- poor work environment
- lack of equal opportunities
- bullying and harassment
- ineffective management
- inadequate training
Where a workplace conflict exists and the problem remains unresolved through informal discussion, the issue will usually fall into one of two categories:
- grievances – when the employee raises their concerns, problems or complaints with the employer
- disciplinaries – when the employer has concerns about the employee’s work or conduct
Every employer should have grievance and disciplinary procedures published and made available to staff. If the employee disagrees with the outcome in either of these situations, they have the right to appeal.
Further, if the staff member believes they have been treated unlawfully they can then make a claim to an employment tribunal.
Mediation is an alternative method of dispute resolution that should be given due consideration when looking to resolve an employment dispute. It is a highly successful method of ADR and is being used increasingly for this type of dispute. The mediation process involves an independent and impartial third party bringing the two sides together, with the aim of finding a solution. Mediation is voluntary and the mediator can’t force either party to accept a solution. Both parties must agree on a way to resolve the dispute.
Mediation is particularly effective when used at the initial phase of any disagreement, before any conflict escalates. Early intervention can prevent small differences turning into full-blown disputes. If a disagreement is resolved early on, there is less chance of the working relationship breaking down irrevocably. It will also improve the chances of maintaining good and productive employee relations in the long term.
Mediation is not appropriate for all types of disputes. Nor should it be used to replace the role and responsibilities of line management. Critically, mediation should never be used to solve problems that have to be formally investigated (for example, harassment or discrimination).
The Advisory Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) is a statutory body which has been offering advice and conciliation services in the employment field for many years. They believe that in about 80% of mediations, an agreement is reached. There are many benefits to mediation. None more so than the opportunity to get a quick resolution to a potentially damaging dispute. It has been shown to reduce the number of disputes escalated to a grievance and, where a dispute had led to a tribunal, mediation provides a far cheaper response than the employment tribunal process.
Furthermore, employment tribunals do not resolve systemic problems that are deep rooted in the workplace. Mediation is more likely to enable the employer to get to the bottom of the problem and make changes to working practices that can benefit employees and the organisation in the long term.
Finally – and perhaps most importantly – at the end of a successful mediation, the individuals involved are more likely to be able to maintain a professional working relationship.
If you need more advice or guidance about using mediation to resolve an employment dispute, get in touch.